Mycobacterium leprae's evolution and environmental adaptation.


Hospital Universitario Centro Dermatológico Federico Lleras Acosta, Bogotá, Colombia. Electronic address: [Email]


Leprosy is an ancient disease caused by the acid-fast bacillus Mycobacterium leprae, also known as Hansen's bacillus. M. leprae is an obligate intracellular microorganism with a marked Schwann cell tropism and is the only human pathogen capable of invading the superficial peripheral nerves. The transmission mechanism of M. leprae is not fully understood; however, the nasal mucosa is accepted as main route of M. leprae entry to the human host. The complete sequencing and the comparative genome analysis show that M. leprae underwent a genome reductive evolution process, as result of lifestyle change and adaptation to different environments; some of lost genes are homologous to those of host cells. Thus, M. leprae reduced its genome size to 3.3 Mbp, contributing to obtain the lowest GC content (approximately 58%) among mycobacteria. The M. leprae genome contains 1614 open reading frames coding for functional proteins, and 1310 pseudogenes corresponding to 41% of the genome, approximately. Comparative analyses to different microorganisms showed that M. leprae possesses the highest content of pseudogenes among pathogenic and non-pathogenic bacteria and archaea. The pathogen adaptation into host cells, as the Schwann cells, brought about the reduction of the genome and induced multiple gene inactivation. The present review highlights the characteristics of genome's reductive evolution that M. leprae experiences in the genetic aspects compared with other pathogens. The possible mechanisms of pseudogenes formation are discussed.


Genome,Intracellular pathogen,Leprosy,Mycobacterium leprae,Pseudogene,Reductive evolution,